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Alzheimer's: how to identify and cope with the disease



As life expectancy increases, Alzheimer's is a one of the most commonly occurring neurodegenerative diseases. Almost 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year, according to data from the World Health Organization. Although there is no cure, specialists make a series of recommendations about behaviour and mitigating actions when the disease is diagnosed. World Alzheimer's Day is celebrated on 21 September each year and this day is used to raise awareness about the disease.


Warning signs of the disease:

The condition is influenced by different factors, both personal and environmental. One of the most important factors is the degree of reserve in different Alzheimer´s patient. There are two types of reserve:

  • Cerebral: This corresponds to the most innate capacities of the brain, such as size and density of synaptic connections or the number of neurons.

  • Cognitive: This relates to the most "talkative" part of the brain. This allows an individual to deal with the damage or deterioration that may occur in the brain.

Specialists make various recommendations for maintaining the plasticity of the brain. These include, taking part in educational, cultural and social-level activities as well as performing jobs that require cognitive effort, such as learning new things.


Having a healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet, exercising and having good routines that keep the brain active are all essential.


It is important to be aware of a series of signs or indications that can alert us that something is not going well and that we should consult a doctor. These include:

  • Changes in memory that affect habitual situations.

  • Problems when facing day-to-day situations, at work, home or in our leisure time.

  • Space-time disorientation.

  • Difficulty understanding images, adjusting distances, or determining colours.

  • Language or writing problems. For example, finding the right word, misunderstanding or not being able to follow conversations.

  • Difficulty in finding objects or not putting them in their usual place.

  • Changes in judgment or problems when making decisions.

  • Variations in mood and personality. Typically, people can feel confused, distressed or depressed.


When someone is diagnosed, what should they do?


If you identify these symptoms in yourself or in a family member or friend it is essential that you consult a specialist who can tell you about the next steps. Remember, Alzheimer´s can sometimes be confused with other forms of dementia or other conditions. Actions that may be important include:


  • Learning about the disease.

  • Consulting with a specialist doctor and looking for specialist associations that may offer support activities or services.

  • Planning and asking for help with daily activities.

  • Organising medication and following reminder processes to avoid skipping doses.

  • Staying healthy and active.


Family and friends are very important in this type of illness. They are a great support to someone who is emotionally or functionally unwell.


How to cope with Alzheimer's as a caregiver


It is important that families learn about the disease and how it is best managed, Facing the new situation and finding a balance between the needs of the patient and the caregiver is essential. So how can we help family carers?


  • Just as with the patient, it is important to learn as much as possible about the disease.

  • Do activities together: both physical and intellectual. Going for a walk together, doing simple chores around the house, doing cognitive tasks, listening to music or dancing are all good ideas.

  • It is important that the patient feels empowered as much as possible. At the beginning of the illness they are usually very aware of their illness and of the likely future deterioration.

  • Plan medication and create routines.

  • Take some time for yourself. The patient´s personality and mood changes can be stressful at times. It is important that the caregiver takes care of him or herself.

  • Encourage communication in a simple way and without forcing it.

  • Plan life in the medium and long term. Advanced planning to avoid future legal issues will help to give peace of mind to the patient and his/her family.

  • Ask for help whenever it is needed.


The positive impact of social support includes making an individual caregiver psychologically and physically stronger. Good social networks and connections can also help prevent Alzheimer's or delay its symptoms.


Remember:

  • Alzheimer's is one of the neurodegenerative diseases with the largest number of sufferers, almost 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year.

  • It´s important to pay attention to signs that something is not right: memory loss, spatio-temporal disorientation, language difficulties, mood and personality changes.

  • It is important to understand the disease well and have a healthy lifestyle.

  • Staying healthy, exercising both physically and mentally, and surrounding ourselves with a positive and active social environment can help prevent Alzheimer's symptoms or delay its symptoms.


This article originally appeared in Spanish on the ASISA Blog. It is translated and reproduced here with permission.


Read more about Age in Spain´s partnership with ASISA here.

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